What Have I Done?

I’m stealing a few moments to write this at Land’s End, a mile or so from the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula, at Forillon National Park in Quebec.

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The Appalachian Mountains make their last stand here against the Atlantic Ocean as it meets the St. Lawrence River, and it is stunning – the hardiest of the granite and shale that the glaciers left behind them when they retreated thousands of years ago, blanketed in a thick, boreal forest which ends at the cliffs that drop directly into the slate blues and greys of the cold sea.

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The peoples who first lived here considered this point to be the end of the earth.

For my family and I, it’s just the beginning.

Both my wife and I have lived in New York City for 20 years, on her part making the decision to set out from Minneapolis to see what the big city had to offer, and for mine, instinctively following a host of friends after graduating from college, looking for jobs, some excitement, and to begin the rest our lives.

I met Val at New York in a dive bar on Avenue A, and after years of convincing, she finally threw in the towel and agreed to marry me.

Several carefree years later we were actual adults.  We had a baby girl.  I had a career.  We had a mortgage.  I owned many, many ties.  Another baby girl showed up.  My birthday cake became crowded with candles, and my thirties were quietly stalked and overthrown by my forties.

And while we had, in our earlier years, talked about what it might be like to take time away from the narrow, hectic cycle of working to pay bills and fund some distant idea of retirement, we somehow never made it to the point where that particular dream crystalized, or was brought into relief.

Then, starting about four years ago, the global economic crisis made my job enormously stressful, less remunerative, and all-round miserable.  I could not afford any new ties.  I would wake up in the middle of the night, driven from my dreams by a nebulous but sharp, insistent worry that I could not shake.  My optimisms about my career, my family, and my life were eroding under a constant deluge of stressors.

It was awful.

Right in the middle of all this, a good friend of mine cajoled me into training for an Ironman (the real deal: a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a full 26.2 mile marathon to cap things off).

While inherently crazy for a guy my age to roll off the sofa and do something like this, it was no less crazy than responding to the worries that plagued me every night by drinking a pint of scotch and hoping they went away.

So I signed up for the race and laid out a schedule and with the unfailing support of my wife disappeared every morning at 4:30 to go do something – ride my bike, run, swim.  Some days, all three.

All that time training gave me a lot of time to talk to myself (really, who else are you going to have a conversation with when you’re in a pool for two hours) and made me realize how valuable my time was to me.

It also made me prioritize everything I was doing, because I just didn’t have any time to waste.  Not a minute.

So, time, everything about my time and indeed my life, while never not valuable to me, became so much more important.

And I would have to be crazy to waste it.

I found myself sitting at my desk, staring at my computer and my phone and being ushered further away from my wife, my girls, my friends, the world outside, effectively being carried away from myself.

So there I was, doing something that was in effect a waste of my time – consuming it while fostering huge amounts of negative energy, worry, and even dread.

I finally talked about it with my wife, and we pulled that dream of ours kicking and screaming into this world from the quiet comfort of the “someday” in which it had been gestating all this time.

And I walked into work on a Monday morning and quit my job.

I crossed the finish line at Lake Placid Ironman a week later.

And then my wife and I put our girls in the back of our little red pickup truck and we started driving.

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And here we are…

2 thoughts

  1. It was great meeting u guys. Cheryl and I had a blast. A lonely strech of beach in a 40 mph dust storm and a guy stops to as a question and presto-friends are made. It was so nice meeting your family. I know our paths will cross again.

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